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Anthony Ligouri, a general engineer and program manager based in the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Center for Rapid Innovation, and teammate Capt. (then-Lt.) Hayk Azatyan prepare for a search-and-rescue immersion exercise with the 920th Rescue Wing, Air Force Reserve Command at Patrick Space Force Base, Fla., in summer 2020. The exercise called for Ligouri and Azatyan, who represented Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in the 2019 AFRL Commander’s Challenge competition, to play the roles of “downed pilots” from a helicopter to better understand the challenges of maritime combat search-and-rescue procedures. Five years after first contributing to the AFRL Commander’s Challenge as a participant, Ligouri now serves as the program manager for this year’s event.

Anthony Ligouri, a general engineer and program manager based in the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Center for Rapid Innovation, and teammate Capt. (then-Lt.) Hayk Azatyan prepare for a search-and-rescue immersion exercise with the 920th Rescue Wing, Air Force Reserve Command at Patrick Space Force Base, Fla., in summer 2020. The exercise called for Ligouri and Azatyan, who represented Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in the 2019 AFRL Commander’s Challenge competition, to play the roles of “downed pilots” from a helicopter to better understand the challenges of maritime combat search-and-rescue procedures. Five years after first contributing to the AFRL Commander’s Challenge as a participant, Ligouri now serves as the program manager for this year’s event. (Bon Strout)

There are still a few more weeks to apply to participate in the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 2024 Commander’s Challenge.

Junior officers, enlisted military members and Defense Department civilians from across Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) have until April 19 to apply. AFRL began the annual challenge in 2006 but put it on hold in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic; this year will mark the event’s return.

This year’s challenge tasks competitors to “develop low-cost solutions to intercept and defeat slow-moving, high-altitude aerial targets,” an AFRL news release said. The aim of the challenge is for participants to “deliver integrated capabilities that address crucial national defense needs,” the release said, and supports the 2023 AFMC Strategic Plan.

The competition also comes in light of last year’s Chinese spy balloon incident. In January 2023, a high-altitude surveillance balloon that originated in China was discovered as it traversed the U.S. It was shot down by U.S. forces over the Atlantic Ocean in February 2023.

Participants will be selected from the applicant pool to serve on one of six teams, each with six to eight members. Teams will pair with an experienced lead mentor and work together to create and demonstrate protype systems and solutions to the challenge.

The event will begin in late spring and culminate approximately seven months later in a head-to-head competition at “a common proving ground” in which each team will demonstrate its solution and share plans for possible future transition, the release said.

Applicants should submit a short email indicating interest and a one-page resume reflecting their background, education, experience and other qualifications (including extracurricular activities) to Anthony Ligouri (anthony.ligouri.1@us.af.mil) and Bon Strout (bon.strout@wbi-innovates.com).

Brian McElhiney is a digital editor and occasional reporter for Stars and Stripes. He has worked as a music reporter and editor for publications in New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and Oregon. One of his earliest journalistic inspirations came from reading Stars and Stripes as a kid growing up in Okinawa, Japan.

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